||[Mar. 29th, 2006|09:11 pm]
There's something special about cooking for a friend... even if the friend isn't present yet.|
I'm making chili, which is one of the first things I've learned to make where I could work with the recipe by eye and tongue. But it's also one of my specialties.
You need ground beef, of course. You can use any kind of beef if you're willing to chop it up small enough and cook it long enough to tenderize, but I think ground beef is best.
I brown it with cumin, after a suggestion from, IIRC, grillghod. Sure, you can add cumin later, but this makes the meat a tad more flavorful and makes it easier to sample the chili when you dump it in the pot.
I use McCormick's spices; I use their regular chili powder (the "hot" style is the same thing with a higher percentage of cayenne, and you can add more cayenne manually), cumin, cayenne (see?) and cinnamon.
Those of you tuning out, this is *not* Cincinnati style chili. The cinnamon is just there so that you would notice it if it was missing. Ditto for the cocoa. I don't know how to describe what they add, but they add something. I use hershey's cocoa, but once I used mexican chocolate, and I could be convinced to toss in bits of a high quality dark chocolate bar, instead... but again, the key isn't that you'll taste the cocoa. It's that you'd realize if you didn't put it in.
While the meats browning, I start heating up a combination of crushed and diced tomatos and tomato sauce. Later on, I might add some tomato paste, if the chili isn't thick enough to serve with a spatula. I'll chop up a large, sweet onion, mostly because I'm too lazy to chop up 2-3 smaller, sharper onions, and I'll press some garlic. "Some", in this case, means most of a largish-sized head of garlic. You can chop the garlic, too... I imagine after the cooking is all done, you won't notice much difference. It's just faster to use a garlic press.
I use pre-packaged chili beans, and I was glad to find that Bush's brand were almost as good as Brook's brand. Have you noticed that? One of the worst things about moving to another part of the country is learning which new brands you can buy. I also added some homemade black beans to the recipe today. A couple of different bean types can be nice.
I emptied those into the pot with the tomato mixture and started adding the already-mentioned seasonings, and then added in some additional things.
Tiger Sauce, by the "Try Me" brand. Take their company name as a good suggestion for Tiger Sauce; it's good stuff. Worcestershire (not too much; just enough glugs that you can almost-not-quite-taste it), and Tabasco. You've already got plenty of heat potential with the cayenne and the chili powder, but the Tabasco adds a hint of vinegar flavor that I like.
Mix this with the meat, and let it all simmer for a bit. You've got to let the flavors blend, but you can start getting a good idea about the flavor now, if you want.
Here's the key: take a taste. Concentrate on two things: your tongue, and the back of your throat.
Your tongue is how you'll realize that you can't tell any cinnamon, cocoa, Worcestershire, etc., has been added. The back of your throat will help you check the heat. It's a learned skill, but once you get the right feel at the back of your throat, you know that you've got the right amount of heat in the chili.
Later on, you can serve it a variety of ways; plain, or over rice, or spaghetti; you can top it with grated cheddar (extra sharp, and sometimes, the cheap store brand is better than the higher quality cheese... don't ask me why, it just is), or a bit of sour cream, or chopped onion. It can be good food if you're on a budget, because the rice or spaghetti and cheap cheese all make it more filling. Plus, you've got two solid sources of protein, ground beef and beans.
There's two secrets to this: keep paying attention, testing and modifying, until you have a flavor party on your tongue. Yes, I know... "a flavor party". Stupid term, right? But trust me, when you've hit it, you'll nod in agreement that it needs *a* term. Maybe you'll come up with something less stupid for your own personal use :-).
Second... it's always better if you're making it for friends.
Partly, it's because you take more care with it. Partly, it's because you put more care *into* it.
Love makes magic happen, even, or perhaps especially, in food.